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Shipwreck identified as the Viola


Timber samples from a ship wrecked on Tasmania’s East Coast nearly 160 years ago have been identified as the Canadian-built brig Viola.

A large piece of the shipwreck was revealed on the Friendly Beaches after a severe storm in early June prompting an investigation by PWS maritime heritage officer Mike Nash.

Consequent wave action  has moved the shipwreck piece about a kilometre north where it is still visible on the beach. 

A sample of the timber sent to an expert for identification has confirmed that the outer planking and frames are yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), while the treenail is a spruce (Picea) species, both of which are native to eastern North America.

Based on that information, Mike is confident that the shipwreck is the Viola built in Newfoundland, Canada, in 1843.

The 139 ton brig Viola left Newcastle with a cargo of coal for Hobart in November 1857 but was forced ashore by strong winds in the Friendly Beaches area, with no loss of life.

The section of wreckage is substantial, approximately 8 metres long by 2.3 metres wide. Mike believes the wreckage is a section of hull, likely to be towards the stern of the vessel.

“The large timbers lying cross-wise are the frames, the longer sections below are the outer planking,” he said.

“There would also have been sections of inner planking but these are missing. That is why the timber pegs [treenails or ‘trunnels’] are sticking out on the top side.

“Originally a hole would have been bored through the outer planking/frames/inner planking and the treenails were then driven through to hold it all together.

“The frames are very close together which is a sign of good quality shipbuilding: the further apart, the weaker the hull.. The planking and treenails are also very good size for the size of ship, so it appears to be generally well built.”

Mike said shipbuilding was a truly international industry where vessels could end up a long way from where they were originally constructed; the same could be said of Tasmanian-built craft that ended up in other countries.

“There are also about eight visible copper-alloy spikes/fastenings in the timbers,” he said.

“It looks like they were actually used for repair work rather than as part of the original construction.

“There was a larger cost involved with using metal fastenings throughout and many merchant vessels were built without them – although they tended to be used in the construction of the keel, where it was necessary to have very strong joinery.”

It is likely that the wreck timbers will be left where they are as recovery of a large shipwreck section like this is difficult, and there are further issues with conservation as the timbers dry out. The sand may re-cover the section and there is also the possibility that another storm may wash it away entirely.

PWS historic heritage officer Peter Rigozzi developed a 3D model of the shipwreck piece, using approximately 90 images taken by Mike Nash. 

Shipwreck identified as the Viola

The shipwreck washed up on the beach at Friendly Beaches has been identified as the Viola.

Shipwreck identified as the Viola

A timber expert identified the shipwreck timbers as from trees native to North America.